Tron Costumes

I’m later in posting about this than I’d intended, but at the beginning of this month we made our annual trip up to Atlanta for Dragon*Con. That used to be my hometown convention when I lived in Georgia, and I’ve been going to it for more years that I can even remember. Even after moving to Florida, I’ve made a point to drive back up each year to get my dose of communal geekery. 2011 was Dragon*Con’s 25th anniversary, and excitement for the event was at an all time high. Before we even left home, we were seeing loads of our friends Tweeting that they were already at their con hotels on Wednesday, two full days before the official start of the con.

Dragon*Con 2011 – Thursday

We left Florida on Thursday and made the drive up I-75 without incident. We made sure to “Think Tifton” and, as always, we came up with at least a few new jokes about the massage spa and “We Bare All” billboards that litter the interstate. We arrived in the Atlanta area mid-afternoon and stopped to visit my grandmom in Fairburn. My parents had been on a road trip up to Niagara Falls the previous week, and they met us in Fairburn as they were coming back down and we were going up. They gave us a ride to the downtown Marriott Marquis and then left to go back south to Orlando.

Statler and Waldorf Costumes

Every year we room with our awesome friend Ginny McQueen, and this year was no exception. Unfortunately her husband Rob wasn’t able to make it this year, and he definitely was missed. Ginny arrived in Atlanta just far enough ahead of us to give her time to get her con pass, so we were all able to meet up in our hotel room on the 34th floor of the Marriott. I think that’s the highest I’ve ever stayed at Dragon*Con. My ears popped every time we went up or down the elevator, and looking over the hallway railing was more than a little unsettling. It definitely gave us the best window view we’ve had, though.

Atlanta Skyline

After getting Ginny into the hotel room, Celeste and I went to the Media Relations room in the Hyatt to pick up our press badges. Just like last year, it was a super fast and line-free process. We didn’t get to see the regular registration line this year, but I hear it was much better now that the con is using a bar code system to check people in. Previously they did all the check-ins by hand, and it literally took people hours to get through the line. Once we had our passes, all three of us went to Azio’s, an Italian restaurant near the Peachtree Center Mall, where Celeste and I have Thursday night dinner every year at Dragon*Con.

Me, Celeste, and Ginny

Back at the hotels, the costumes were out in full force, even though the con didn’t officially start until the following day. I wouldn’t be surprised if they eventually extend the convention to be a true five-day event, because most of the hardcore attendees already come on Thursday now (and many as early as Wednesday now).

MST3K Robots costumes

Dragon*Con 2011 – Friday

If Thursday is Dragon*Con’s new Friday, then Friday definitely is its new Saturday. From early in the day it was clear that the crowds were going to be insane this year. I haven’t heard an attendance number yet, but it seemed like there were far more people at the event this year than there ever have been in the past. There were some crowd control issues in some of the hotels that caused big pedestrian traffic jams, leading to some general claustrophobia, anthropophobia, and frustration. It was impossible to get through the dealer rooms or pretty much anywhere else that day, so we just went to the Metro Diner with Ginny for lunch. Ahead of us in line were Colin Ferguson, Christopher Gauthier, and Jordan Hinson, all from Eureka. We didn’t bother them, but it was kind of neat to see them all together at lunch. I imagine they probably had a weird con, having just learned that Syfy was canceling the show they’d come to promote.

Meeting Amanda Tapping

Celeste and I decided to do our press coverage a little more loosely this year so that we wouldn’t have to stick to rigid interview schedules like we did last year. Our one and only press appointment this time was with Amanda Tapping (Stargate SG-1, Stargate Atlantis, and Sanctuary) in the Hilton, and that’s where we went after lunch. The Dragon*Con media folks had set it up as a press conference, complete with chairs, a photo backdrop, and all that. It turned out to be very intimate, though, as there were only four other reporters in attendance with us. We all basically just sat around in a small room with Amanda Tapping for a little over half an hour. Amanda was super nice, funny, and appreciative, and she did a great job of answering all our questions (most of the press conference is on our podcast from last week). It’s always great to be a fan of someone’s work and then to find out she really is a good person in real life as well.

Jonathan Coulton Concert

Later on Friday we went to dinner at Mandarin House, the Chinese restaurant where Celeste and I traditionally eat every non-Thursday night dinner for Dragon*Con. After dinner we got a cab over to the Variety Playhouse in Little Five Points, where we met up with Chad and Karen who were already in line for the Jonathan Coulton and Paul & Storm concert. Celeste and I saw all three guys in concert earlier this year at the Social in Orlando, and we’d randomly met Paul & Storm last year on the show floor at Comic-Con. We’re big fans of all of them, so it was really cool to be able to attend this show in the middle of the convention weekend. It was Jonathan Coulton’s album release concert for his new CD, Artificial Heart. We got there early and were able to hold a standing position at the front and center of the stage for the whole night. It was a ton of fun, and we were able to have some back and forth banter with the guys and even request songs. We’re not as familiar with Molly Lewis‘ music, but she showed up as a surprise guest and played some great ukulele.

Meeting Jonathan Coulton

Dragon*Con 2011 – Saturday

Every year Dragon*Con has a big costume parade on Saturday morning at 10am. We’re never out of bed early enough to see it, because we usually have been up doing stuff way too late on Friday night. We were determined to see the parade this year, though, so we got up bright and early and made our way down from the 34th floor… only to find that every sidewalk along the parade route was so jam packed with people that we couldn’t see the road at all, and we couldn’t even walk to the next block without swimming through a sea of people. As I get older, I have a harder and harder time with dealing with crowds, and this year’s Dragon*Con was a weekend long session of unsuccessful immersion therapy.

Dragon*Con 2011 Gaming Room

Since we weren’t able to see the parade, we decided to figure out something else fun to do. We reasoned that everybody at the convention was either out at the parade or up in their rooms asleep, so we seized the opportunity to hit the dealer rooms again, this time without the massive crowds blocking the aisles. We were able to navigate it successfully, and Celeste got a plush companion cube and pinback button from Portal.

The only other event we hit that day was a big Stargate panel in the Westin with Amanda Tapping, Christopher Heyerdahl, and David Nykl. It was originally intended as a moderated Q&A session with the three actors, but it quickly turned into something entirely amusing as Christopher and David went into the audience themselves and carried the mics around for the audience to ask questions. Amanda came off the stage and stood at the front of the room, leaving the moderator all by herself.

Dragon*Con 2011 – Sunday

The only official event we attended on Sunday was the Star Wars costume contest. I got the whole event on video and presently am working on getting it edited down to go on YouTube. I’ll link it from this blog once I have it up there. There were a number of great costumes in the contest, but the clear winner before the contest even started was a guy who built a full Wookiee suit and was Snoova the bounty hunter. Peter Mayhew (the real Chewbacca) was one of the judges, and I can imagine that he sympathized with whatever the winning guy was going through inside that massive suit of fur. Unlike Mayhew, this guy also had to walk on stilts. I don’t envy his standing on stage, as awesome as his costume was.

Rorschach and Harley Quinn

We were able to meet our friends Ben and Holly for dinner that night, once again at Mandarin House. Their two little girls came with them, and it was the first time we’d gotten to meet them, even though we’ve seen loads of pictures of them on Facebook for years. It’s always fun spending time with the Boatrights, and we’re actually going to be seeing them again next Wednesday when they’re down here at Disney for vacation.

Dragon*Con 2011 – Monday

Although Monday is still an official day of the convention, complete with planned events and everything, we never actually do anything con-related on that day. It’s reserved for getting everything packed up and hitting the road to go home. As luck would have it, the water in our hotel turned to mud on Monday morning when we were trying to take showers. I called the front desk and was told that because so many people were using so much water all at once the city had shut down the water main… or something like that. In any case, we had mud to bathe in for a while, and the hotel gave me some Marriott rewards points (the equivalent of $10) to say sorry. At least we didn’t actually have to bathe in it, unlike poor Jordan Hinson who apparently took her shower in the dark and was grossed out on our elevator when she learned she’d been washing herself with dirt. The drive home was pretty precarious, as we hit some of the bands of one of the many tropical storms that happened to be blowing through at the time. The rain was torrential for a big portion of the drive back, but that’s nothing new for Dragon*Con trips. We made it home Monday night, and it’s taken us quite a while to get out of travel mode and back into the regular routine.

Hitchhikers Guide costumes

The Best and the Worst

There were a lot of highlights this year, chief among them getting to hang out with Amanda Tapping and being front row center at the JoCo concert. It was also great to see and spend time with Ginny, Ben and Holly, and a bunch of our other friends that we don’t get to see very often. We brought several costumes with us, but we only ended up wearing one or two. I was Rorschach from Watchmen a couple of nights, and Celeste and I wore our Locke and Juliet costumes from Lost another night.

Lost Costumes

The less than great parts of the con this year mostly came from the huge crowds. Dragon*Con attendees are, for the most part, fun loving and polite geeks. Packing too many of anybody into small areas, regardless of how great they are, will create congestion and problems. That’s what happened this year, and I’m not sure whether the main issue was with there being too many people for the current con venues or whether the crowd control just wasn’t up to par. I definitely got the feeling before and during the event that the staff of the Hyatt Regency doesn’t care much for Dragon*Con attendees, despite the surely huge amount of revenue they bring in each Labor Day Weekend. All the other hotels seemed to have great and helpful staff, though, so one bad apple won’t spoil the bunch, even if it does ruin the hotel that used to be the epicenter of the convention.

Pete, Gabi, me, and Celeste

I also missed getting to see and talk with a lot of the folks I usually get to see around the con. Again, I chalk that up to the sheer numbers of people in attendance this year. With so many official hotels in the mix, the convention is more geographically spread out than ever now, so that played a factor, too. We missed getting to see a lot of the greatest costumes, just because it would be impossible to physically be everywhere all the cool stuff was happening at all times.

Pee Wee's Playhouse Costumes

All in all, I’m glad we went to Dragon*Con again this year, but it had a different vibe than in the past, mostly because of the huge crowds. I’m looking forward to next year and hoping the sardine effect isn’t as much in play for 2012.

(all the photos in this post were taken by Celeste and are posted in her Flickr account)

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